“I mentally have a memory void of last winter,” Scott Boras joked this past July, when he was asked how he saw the 2018-19 offseason playing out following what he and his clients in the free agent market experienced the previous winter.
“You have to bring me back psychologically,” Boras laughed.
“Low prices,” a reporter said, trying to trigger a repressed memory of what was a long and frustratingly slow Hot Stove season for free agents.
“The component of every market place is demand and ability to pay,” the super-agent said, “and the game is at extraordinary economic levels.”
“It is $12B and growing and with this gaming [read: gambling] dynamic coming, you may see baseball rise to an $18 to $20B-a-year industry. The interest level, the rights value of putting that component where companies can make money off their interest in the game, because it brings a personal interest.
“You can imagine the NFL, they bet once a week, you’re going to see in baseball that we have just more opportunities, and familiarities, and diverse ways.
“There’s a whole integrity issue to this. There’s a whole management issue to this. There’s a whole litigation as to whose rights those are coming forth.
“Once all those things are determined I think it’s going to dramatically increase franchise values, it’s going to increase attendance, interest in the game, it’s going to make the game being watched, hand-held-wise, from many, many levels, for many, many different reasons than there are now.”
The increased interest and revenue, Boras argued, would result in a much more active free agent market.
“Last year was probably the classic solar eclipse of baseball,” he explained.
“Because [Shohei] Ohtani literally shut down the free agent market for 30 days, because every team focused on getting the minimum-salaried superstar. You don’t get minimum-salaried superstars, you get players — and then the right of free agency was so diluted by the compressing of All-Star Players. There [were] seven or eight All-Star players that were essentially cast away, ‘We have to get rid of them,’ a ‘sale’ if you will.
“You have four from Miami, two from Pittsburgh, one from Tampa, and look at the impacts those players, [Marcell] Ozuna in St. Louis, or [Giancarlo] Stanton in New York, Gerrit Cole in Houston, and when you look at the impact of what those star players, [Christian] Yelich in Milwaukee, have had on franchises, and in every instance, they’re getting a player that they have control over, or they’re getting a player that does not carry the burdens or commitments of free agency. So when you have four or five major free agents in the market, and then you put seven more into that market, and then you defer the market by adding Ohtani to it, you have a totally different viewpoint ... as to how teams are going to work to be competitive and to be better, and plus then you add to that, that four teams were in the market that refused to spend beyond the luxury tax threshold.
“Then you add to that that there were probably close to eleven teams that said, ‘We are in the non-competitive world.
“Other than that it was a normal market.
“And none of those factors, four of the five of those factors are not going to be in play this year, because the luxury tax teams are all reset, now you’re not going to have a dilution of free agency like you had before. There’s a great pitcher coming from Japan, but he’s going to be a posted pitcher, he’s going to be in the free agent market at normal rates, so I think the market will be grandly aggressive because a lot of teams sustained movement because the opportunities for getting pitching talent and getting players of uniqueness — how long has it been since we had 26-year-old free agents?”
It was a rhetorical question.
“Well the answer is it’s been well over 15 years,” Boras continued, “... and so you don’t get these players, and these players, a player like Bryce Harper is unique in the sense that he makes you money in addition to the service he provides. He’s iconic. And so these are opportunities where teams are looking at a very unusual look at something that they rarely ever will have an opportunity to obtain.”
In an MLB Network Radio interview last November, Boras was still building the pitch on Harper, discussing what the outfielder would bring to a franchise if the 2010 No. 1 pick returned to Washington, D.C. or decided to move on from the nation’s capital.
He also said he didn’t think that lumping Harper and Manny Machado together made sense, just because they were reaching the market at the same time and age.
“Look, Manny Machado is just a great baseball player,” Boras said.
“No doubt about all those things. But the reality of it is: When you go to look at the things players have done, what ceilings they have, and it’s an idea — ‘Well, do you have an 1.100 OPS season in your book, in your record? Do you have a 1.000 OPS season in your book?’
“Bryce Harper has two of those.
“When you step into those things and they start to separate, everything starts to separate by performance. Because when you’re dealing with players that are 25-26 years of age, you’re talking about these players are most likely going to deliver the greatest performances of their careers in future years, so you’re wanting to know, well when I look at this — and how many players have that ceiling? Well, when you go back and you look and in 1980, one person had an 1.100 OPS season, in the entire decade, George Brett. There were none in the ‘70s, and [Willie] McCovey, [Mickey] Mantle, and Norm Cash were the only ones in the ‘60s, and Mantle and Ted Williams were the only ones in the ‘50s.
“[Stan] Musial, Williams, and [Hank] Greenberg were the only ones in the ‘40s. You’re talking about a performance ceiling that maybe only a small group have ever reached and there is a little bit of an asterisk on the ‘90s and 2000s — because there were eight or nine players that did it then — but I’m talking about when you look at the generations of those years, you’re talking about, well, this is something that we have just not seen and even among one of the greatest players in the game, Mike Trout.
“Mike Trout had one 1.000 OPS season by 25. Bryce Harper has had two. And when you start to break it out — about who has those abilities, all of a sudden you can see that really, really good players, players we really value, they don’t really have that element in their bag to reach that elite level.”
His justification for expecting Harper to land what was/is expected to be something in the neighborhood of a 10-year/$300-$400M-ish deal, though those expectations, at this point, might have changed.
“The way to articulate this in true business form is look at the Nats’ franchise,” Boras said at the 2018 Winter Meetings, as quoted by USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale.
“It was worth $480 to $500 million before he got there, and now it’s worth more than $2 billion. TV ratings have tripled.
“Every GM in baseball wants him because he fills a need, but the owners are pursuing Bryce Harper because they know he can also make them a billion dollars over a period of years.”
“It only takes one billionaire to change his mind to shake up this picture,” Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote last week.
“But trends tend to stay intact. This one has been in place for two offseasons. With each week that passes, it’s harder to see a bidding war busting out for Bryce or Manny.”
With weeks to go before the start of Spring Training, Boras and Harper are still waiting for one of the 30 MLB owners to buy what they’re selling.